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Does Classical Music Have To Be Tuneful To Be Good ?

   Well ,for one thing , it depends on what you consider to be tuneful .  Not everyone agrees about this .  Melody is certainly an important part of what we call classical music ,  but not all music  ,particularly  atonal and  12-tone  works of the 20th century is  conventionally melodious .  It should be remembered that while  all  12-tone music is atonal ,not all  atonal music is 12-tone in the Schoenbergian sense .

    Some classical works by  famous composers are  very tuneful , and  listeners find this very appealing ,  and why not ?   The most  popular classical works  usually have catchy melodies ,and  this is one reason  even  people who  have little or no knowledge of classical music can easily recognize them . 

    But  many great works by  many great composers  are not full of  immediately  appealing  melodies  , such  as  the music of the so-called  "Second  Viennese School ",  ie , the music of  Arnold  Schoenberg and his  two most famous  disciples  Alban Berg and  Anton Webern .  Or other important 20th century composers such  as  Olivier Messiaen ,  Elliott Carter ,  Milton  Babbitt ,  Pierre Boulez et  al .

    However, this is no reason to reject  their music out of hand .  You simply need a different mindset , as well  as  some  patience , to  appreciate it .  It also helps to have a decent or better background in  music theory , but this is not  absolutely essential  .

    The  12-tone works of Schoenberg  are not  conventionally tuneful , and you're not likely to  exit  a performance of them whistling  the tunes . But they DO  have recognizable  MOTIFS , that is  short recognizable  recurring  (sort of  ) melodic  ideas  .  A melody might be defined  as  a  tune of some  length , but  a motif  might be described  as  a very brief (sort of ) melodic idea .

    While melody is certainly important in classical music , nice hummable melodies  alone do not  great music make .  What matters is what the composer DOES with those  melodies or themes .  This is what  creates  masterpieces .  The themes ,or melodies if you insist on calling them this ,  are merely the basic building  blocks ,the raw material , of  any given  classical work , whether a symphony , concerto, sonata , or what have you . 

    Many of  the themes in Beethoven's music ,  for example ,  are not particularly interesting  in and of themselves . They're just simple  themes consisting of  rising  and falling  melodic lines ,  scalar  ideas , that is ,melodies  rising or falling by short intervals , or  with disjunct  intervals  of wider leaps .  But  Beethoven's  genius consists in his  ability to  transform  these  simple  basic ideas by constantly altering them in the most  ingenious manner . 

    In any given  symphony , concerto or sonata etc by Beethoven ,  those basic  themes  are constntly varied and altered ;  by subtly changing the  basic  shape of the melody ,  using different orchestral instruments to play them , thus varying the tone color ,  switching  the themes from major to minor or vice versa ,  using  augmentation and  diminution of the  themes  by  lengthening or  shortening the  length of the notes,  using counterpoint ,or having  the basic ideas  played  as different  voices  going on at the same time  but  not beginning  exactly at the same time ,  and  many,many other ways .

     You might compare this to a novel or short story ;  each consists of a story  with a varity of different characters , and  a symphony could be called  a novel in music , with  a variety of different themes occurring through the different  movements .  Each movement might be compared to a chapter of  a novel ,  although  symphonies  , concertos  & sonatas  usually have only  three or four  movements ,  occaisionally  more or fewer than this . 

     As in a novel or short story , the themes are like the characters ; they never remain the same and are constantly  changing  and evolving over time .  The hero or heroine of a novel is never the same as in the beginning ,nor the other characters .

     A theme and variations is a work where a composer takes a preexisting melody from some other work , either by another composer or  himself  , and  subjects  that  melody to  constant  changes  over a period of time  .  It iusually consists of the basic  theme ,  which  keeps changing  , in  separae sections ,  vraration 1, 2, 3,4, 5,  and  more ,sometimes more than 20 .  Orthe theme could  be  a  popular melody or  folk song .

     There are so many of these by so many great composers , such as Haydn,Mozart, Beethoven , Brahms , Tchaikovsky ,Rchmaninov , to name only several , and they are can be for solo piano ,  piano and other instruments , or for orchestrra etc .  Some individual movements of symphonies or sonatas etc , consist of  themes and  variations , one of the most famous being  the famous  Schubert quintet for piano and  strings  , the so-called  "Trout  Quintet ", where the composer   takes the melody from one of his songs , which happens to be about a  fisherman  fishing for  a trout in a stream and  subjects it  to  variations .

    Schubert music is known to be very melodious ; but  what makes his music  great is not the melodies alone .  And this is true of so many great composers .  Catchy melodies  without  a great composer's  genius in  working  with them  are not really worth  much .  So when you listen to any  classical masterpiece , you should  always try to be aware of what the composer ACTUALLY DOES with the melodies to  gain  true enjoyment  and understanding of the music .

Posted: Mar 24 2014, 10:53 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy Birthday To Barry Tuckwell , The Heifetz Of The Horn

  Today is the  83rd  birthday of  one of  the  greatest  masters of  that  treacherous instrument , the French  horn ,or as some purists insist ,the horn ,  Australian  native and world citizen ,Barry Tuckwell .  He has been  retired  from playing  the horn in public since the late  1990s ,but  is still very much  active as  a teacher and  a conductor . 

    As a former horn player myself ,I've always been  in awe of his  incredible  virtuosity and  golden tone . But  this is true of  every one who plays this instrument .  He makes it sound as though playing this extremely difficult  instrument  were  easy  !  Tuckwell is one of the few horn players to make a successful  career as a full time  soloist ,although he  began as an orchestral  player . 

    Because of his astounding  virtuosity  , Tuckwell has been called the  "Heifetz of  the horn ".  Born in Melbourne in 1931 ,  Tuckwell  took up the horn as a  boy and  showed such innate andprodigious  talent  for the instrument  he began to play  professionally in  Australian orchestras as a  teenager .  He moved to  England  and played in various leading  British orchestras  until  becoming  principal  horn of  the presitgious  London symphony orchestra ,playing  under many of the world's foremost  conductors , and left the orchestra to pursue a career as a solo  hornist ,appearing to great  acclaim all over the world

    In addition ,he  has made numerous  recordings ,more than  any other horn player , of  the  horn concertos by  Mozart ,Haydn ,  Richard Strauss ,Paul  Hindemith , Carl Maria von Weber and  lesser known composers who have written solo works for the instrument , as well as  new works by  leading contemporary composers  such as Gunther Schuller , a former horn player himself ,  Thea Musgrave ,  Robin Holloway , Richard Rodney Bennet  Oliver Knussen and others  .  These composers have  written works specifically for him . 

     Tuckwell  has also been active  as a conductor , appearing  with  many different orchestras , including  the London symphony ,  and  has served as music director of the  Baltimore symphony orchestra in  America .  He  has taught  horn  master classes  alll over the world  as well as teaching  privately  at  leading music schools  . 

    He has written  three books on  horn  playing ,including  one for the late Yehudi  Menuhin's  series of books on the various  orchestral  instruments  written by  various  great  virtuosos .  This book is  a  goldmine of  fascinating  information  about the history  of the  horn  ,its  playing  technique  and construction , and I recommend it highly  . 

    If you would like to experience  his  great  artistry ,  try his recordings  of  some of  the most famous works  for the horn first , such as the concertos  of  Mozart and  Richard  Strauss  first  .  They are easily  available  at  and elsewhere on the internet .

Posted: Mar 05 2014, 07:45 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Happy 85th Birthday To Bernard Haitink , The Modest Maestro

   "Modest  Maestro "  sounds like an oxymoron ,  but today is the 85th birthday of the venerable  Dutch conductor  Bernard Haitink (High -tink) ,one of  the most eminent  maestros of  our time .  Conductors have the reputation of being  flashy, imperious ,egotistical  and sometimes downright ruthless , but  the veteran Dutch conductor has never shown any of these qualities .  He may be the most unpretentious individual ever to achieve world renown on the podium .

    And  musicians in  virtually all the world's great  orchestras  have enormous respect for his  sterling musicianship and  leadership  abilities .  They certainly don't like every conductor they work under , and in some cases they have nothing but contempt for them , but if you talk to ny of them , they have nothing but the highest  regard for him . They can spot a phony instantly . 

    He has conducted  virtually all of the world's  top orchestras and conducted  opera  at the Met and served as music director of  London's presitgious  Royal Opera for some years ,but the orchestra with which he has been most closely associated is the  great  Royal Concertgebouw orchestra of  Amsterdam , where he was principal conductor for many years untlil stepping down in the  late 1980s .  This is the foremost orchestra in the Netherlands , and  virtually all the world's greatest conductors have  appeared  with it .

     Mestro  Haitink has also served  as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic ,  the Staatskapelle of Dresden ,  music director of the presitgious  Glyndebourne opera festival in England ,  principal guest conductor of the Boston symphony , and  served for some time  as principal  conductor of the  Chicago symphony ,not music director , in between  Daniel Barenboim  and its curren tmusic director Riccardo Muti . He has also been a regular with the Vienna Philharmonic , the Bavarian Radio symphony of Munich and the Berlin Philharmonic .

    As a conductor,Haitink has always  avoided  interpretive flashiness , and his performances are straightforward  but anything but  dull .  His repertoire ranges  from Mozart and  Beethoven to  works  by contemporary composers .,  He is particularly renowned for his performances of the monumental  symphonies of  Bruckner and  Mahler, which he has recorded complete .  

    Haitink has made  numerous recordings of orchestralrepertoire as well as a number of  complete opera recordings , including  Wagner's complete Ring with the  Bavarian Radio orchestra .  He has made no fewer than three recordings of all nine Beethoven symphonies , three of the four Brahms symphonies ,  the six of Tchaikovsky , the nine of  British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams ,  the four of Robert Schumann, aand many other composers .  The  Netherlands has produced a fair number of composers ,none well known outside of  the country , but Haitink  regularly performed their music in  his native Amsterdam .

    He has reached the age of  85, a time  when most people have long been retired or are now in  homes for the elderly , but  maintains an active  international schedule .  Many  great conductors ,such as Stokowski , Ormandy , Sir Adrian Boult , Otto Klemperer , Kurt Sanderling , Pierre Boulez , Kurt Masur , and others have never felt the need to retire  because the physical activity of  conducting seems to promote  good health in old age .

   So let's all wish a happy 85th birthday to a modest but remarkable musician !  



Posted: Mar 04 2014, 08:26 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Context .

   Why am I mangling the title of a famous song by Duke Ellington ?  I'd like to talk about the importance of  context in classical music . As I see it ,it's a major  stumbling  block  to enjoying  classical music for many . 

    When most people think of music ,they think of  SONGS .  Pop songs . Rock songs etc .  What do these songs deal with for the most part ?  Love .  Possibly politics or some other things .  But while  vocal music is a very important  part of classical , much of it is purely instrumental .  Symphonies,concertos ,  sonatas ,symphonic poems , suites , etc . 

   So many people are just not accustomed to listening to purely instrumental music .  If you take someone and  play him or her a  recording of a symphony by Beethoven , or a sonata for piano,or a string quartet etc and that person has no background in this kind of music , knows  next tonothing about classical ,chances are it will mean nothing to that individual .  Possibly ,it might sound interesting , and  it might  pique his curiosity , but  it might also  be totally puzzling .  Or boring or irrritating .

    This person has no context,no frame of reference when it comes to classical music .  You might compare it to speaking  a language that person does not know at all  to him .  In order to understand  a  language and speak it , you need to study it  carefully . 

    Actually , getting familiar with classical music and  learning about different genres and forms in it , the history ,  etc , is nowhere near as difficult as learning ,say , Chinese,Japanese or Russian .  But you DO need to leanr SOMETHING  about it in order  to  REALLY gain enjoyment and mental stimulus from  it .  It wasn't a problem for me as a teenager , since I doscovered it on my own and  began devouring  every recording ,  book and and magazine I could get my hands on .  I soaked it all up naturally .  All the information I could find about it .  But  I'm not  a typical example  of how people get interested in classical music .

    I read everything I could about composers and their works ,their lives ,  etc .  And I went through rigorous musical training as a music major  in college and graduate school .  Some people are lucky enough to have had  parents who love classical music and  who  play recordings of it at home and take them to concerts .  I didn't come from a very musical family , but somehow ,I discovered classical music  when I was about 13  and  the rest is history . 

    What can people  do  to  gain that all important context  and frame of reference ?  There are plenty of good  books  explaining classical music  for the uninitiated ,and plenty of internet resources .  It's all  out there for anyone  who is willing to give classical music a chance .Now if there were only more peope like this in America . . . .



Posted: Feb 25 2014, 10:12 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Do So Many People Hate Classical Music ?

   It's not "politically correct "for  lovers of classical music to denigrate  Pop music, Rock , or other kinds of  non-classical music .  To do so,or even to say you prefer classical, is to open yourself up to accusations of being a "snob" and an "elitist ".  But it's  perfectly acceptable  for  people to denigrate  classical music ,  to dismiss it as "stuffy, boring and elitist ",  irrelevant ,passe ,  a plaything for the wealthy ,  a  musty old  art form  consisting almost entirely of  dated music from the past , or even  racist .  Music dominated by "Dead White European  Males ".

    But these  notions are all myths .  And unfortunately ,  these myths have closed the minds of so many people  to the possibility of enjoying so much magnificent music written over  the centuries .  It's a fact - many people dislike  classical music not because of the music itself ,but because  they've heard  these myths repeated over and over  . 

   Of course, there's no law that says you MUST love classical music , nor should there be one . If some people don't like it, that's certainly their right .  But they shouldn't dislike it for the wrong reasons !   As the old saying goes , "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it ".  And so many people haven't really TRIED it .  Classical music is probably the most diverse kind of music in existence in terms of  musical styles and genres . 

     There is music by so many composers of  different nationalities, many NOT European , and styles have changed vastly over the centuries . The musicof Stravinsky is vastly different from the music of Beethoven .  Beethoven'smusic is vastly different from the music of Claudio Monteverdi who lived in Italy in  the late  16th and early 17th centuries .   The music of Monteverdi is very different from  Palestrina ,also of Italy , who lived a couple of generations before him . And so  on .The music of  Philip Glass , who is still very much alive , is vastly different from  Stravinsky's .

    The music of  Richard Wagner , a German , is vastly different from the music of Giuseppe Verdi, an Italian born in the same year , 1813 .  Orchestral music is very different form opera ,  and chamber music is very different form both .  There's such  amazing diversity in what we call classical music . So people should not listen to just one or two pieces of it and decide they don't like  the whole shebang .   Can you imagine someone who grew up isolated from the world and saw of movie for the first time , and decided he or she didn't like movies ? 

    So if you're going to listen to some classical music , listen to  various  types of it ; orchestral , opera , chamber music ,  art songs etc . Chances are you will like some  classical works and not others .  It's just the same with movies . We all like some , but not others .  However,with classical  music , you often need repeated hearings before you know whether you like something or not .  You should always be wary of  rejecting a work  immediately .  Give it a chance . 

     There are also  some unfortunate people who don't like classical music because of   music appreciation classes  they took  as  children or teenagers in school .  If a teacher does not a good job of  explaining  this kind of music ,  is a boring , apathetic  teacher , etc ,  the effect can be deadly and  close  a young person's mind for life .  However,  too  many public schools have long abandoned  music  appreciation  classes altogether , and  so many young people get zero exposure to classical music .  This has done possibly even more damage to the cause of classical music .  It's not the fault of these young people that they get no exposure to it .  If you mention the name Ludwig van Beethoven to them you will get blanks states and they will reply "Ludwig van who ?" 

    There are no easy answers as to how to remedy this  unfortunate situation , and how to  increase the popularity of classical  music .  But something MUST be done ,and  I'm convinced that it CAN be done .  It certainly won't be easy , but it's not impossible . 

Posted: Feb 24 2014, 09:36 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Mark Twain Was Right !

  No, this isn't about the great writer and humorist .  It's about the alleged "death" of classical music .  Yes,  rumors of the death of classical music have been greatly exaggerated , like the death of Mark Twain long ago .   Classical music is neither dead nor dying , for all its  undemiable problems . 

    But  recently , one Mark  Vanhoenacker , writing for ,  went so far as to declare classical music dead and buried .  (How do you pronounce his name, anyway ?)  He trotted out all the usual  facts and  half-truths ;  the audience is aging ; there's a lack of younger people at concerts ,  numerous orchestras and opera companies ,not only in the U.S. , have gone under or  are close to it .  It's difficult to sell out performances ;  the costs of running  opera companies and orchestras are prohibitive ;  audiences are predominantly white ;  there's a woeful lack of new music which audiences like .

    Vanhoenacker also sets up at least one or two  straw  men ;  "fancy clothes " are a problem . He does not state whether  the fancy clothes  are worn by either audiences or the performers . Audiences  don't   wear "fancy clothes " for the most part ,and there is no dress code requiring  formal attire .  Orchestras dress somewhat formally ,but so what ?  What's so horrible about a concert where the men are wearing  tuxedos or black ties ?  How can this make  going to concerts a less enjoyable experience ?   Would it be nicer if they all wore dungarees and  T shirts ? 

    In addition , the author mentions  "incomprehensible program notes "  at concerts .  This might be a problem in some  cases ,where the writer  doesn't do a good job explaining the music  or the circumstances behind  the composition of the works , but   the  writers, who tend to be professional musicologists ,  don't  generally write as though they were writing  scholarly papers for a conference of musicologists or  highly technical  analyses by music theorists , which are certainly  highly technical  and esoteric .   Personally , I have not heard  a great many stories about  program notes being  incomprehensible .

     But classical music , for all  the difficulties it faces , is  far from "dead " or even being moribund .  Wolrdwide , there are still more  professional  orchestras ,opera companies ,  chamber ensembles ,  solo instrumentalists of all instruments ,  choruses  , opera and concert singers  than ever before .  And there is most definitely an audience for them .  The vast  majority have not gone under . 

     There are also  more composers  than ever before , and by no means all of them are white males .  The notion that there is a lack of new music is a myth .  Since the year 2,000 ,  numerous new works have been premiered ; orchestral works, operas ,  oratorios , etc  in a wide variety of compositional styles ranging from  rather old -fashioned  conservative  works designed not to  distress audiences  to  works of  mind-boggling complexity  which  are  extremely challenging  an daunting listenign experiences . 

    Many  critics and  composers say that the repertoire of classical music has become  "ossified ", and  performing groups tend to repeat the same old  familiar  masterpieces  to the exclusion of  new works .  This is a half truth .  There is a canon of  lastingly popular operas, symphonies,concertos etc ,  and  many opera companies  and orchestras  tend to concentrate on these , but there are many  exceptions to this rule .  Every year , there is a steady stream of new works by many  different  composers  from all over the world . Of course , most of these works will never achieve a lasting place in the reprtoire , but this is true of  the vast majority of  works written over the centuries . 

     Far from  being "ossified ",  the repertoire of classical music is in constant flux .  In addition to the established, beloved masterpieces , there are new works every year ,plus revivals of works which had been long neglected .  In addition to live performances ,  a staggeringly wide variety of classical music  is available on CD , and more and more  is becoming available on DVD .  If you want to hear music beyond  the familiar works of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven , Tchaikovsky , Ravel and other famous composers , you can  hear  music by composers   few people but  diehard  classical music  fans have ever heard of .  More than you could ever imagine .  Lots of interesting music  which  has been undeservedly neglected . 

     The internet  now enables you to hear  the entire range of western classical music ranging  from  works written over five centuries ago to the latest works by living composers .  If you want to see  an opera performance but   don't wnt to pay for expensive tickets or don't live anywhere near an opera house , you can now see live performances  by the Metropolitan  opera at your local movie theater  for  about $ 20 dollars instead  of  $ 350  for one of the better seats  at the Mets home in Lincoln Center .  Or you can wait until the DVD comes out .

    On youtube,  you can hear  an amazingly wide variety of classical music for nothing .  You can hear recordings and see entire concerts by the world's greatest orchestras ,conductors, pianists and violinists etc .  Works by  just about ANY ocmposer ,period .   You can see complete operas  by many different composers  complete with  English subtitles .  Sung by  the world's greatest singers, living and dead .  You can stream live  and recorded performances by the  Metropolitan opera on their website . 

      Is it a feast or a famine for classical music today ?   You might say both .   But don't ever believe anyone who says  that it is either dead or dying .

Posted: Feb 18 2014, 11:02 PM by the horn | with no comments
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R.I. P. Claudio Abbado , The Gentle Giant Of The Podium

   The great and  revered Italian conductor Cllaudio Abbado has just passed away at the age of 80 in his home in Bologna,Italy  .  It's difficult to believe that such a force of nature , a conductor so filled with energy and  enthusiasm , is no more .  But he had been struggling with the effects of  stomach cancer for some years , while  managing to continue conducting , and his appearance had become more gaunt with age . 

    Many great conductors have been feared by the musicians who played under them ; they were strict disciplinarians who were respected but  dreaded .  Toscanini, Szell, Reiner , for example . But Claudio Abbado was universally loved by the world's greatest orchestras which he conducted for decades ; the Berlin Philharmonic, the London symphony , the Vienna Philharmonic, the Chicago symphony , to name only those most closely associated with him , not to mention the orchestras of  such great opera companies of  the great La Scala  opera house in his native Milan and others .

   Abbado was the gentle giant of the podium ;  never bossy, overbearing  and imperious , he won the respect of  orchestral musicians everywhere with his  exceptional musiciaship and quiet authority .  He was equally admired  by the world's greatest opera singers , with whom he regularly worked ,  and the  most renowned  violinists , pianists and other solo instrumentalists .

    Claudio Abbado was chosen by the musicians of the mighty Berlin Philharmonic to succede the legendary Herbert von Karajan as their chief conductor  in 1989 shortly after the older maestro died that year , and also  been  principal conductor of the London symphony orchestra ,  the music director of  La Scala Milan and the Vienna State opera .  He also served as principal guest conductor of the Chicago symphony orchestra during the 1980s . 

     As a budding young conductor in the early 1960s he was an assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein ,and  guest conducted  such great American orchestras as the Boston symphony , Philadelphia and Cleveland  on occaision, although his  main base was Europe . 

     Later in life, he founded several  special more or less ad hoc orchestras such as the Lucerne Festival orchestra , a deluxe, hand-picked  festival orchestra chosen from the greatest orchestras of Europe , and the Mozart orchestra of Bologna , as well as  the All-European youth orchestra , drawn from the most talented young  aspiring musicians of  the continent .

    Abbado was at home in a wide rnge of orchestral and operatic repertoire , ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to the most important composers of the present day .  In opera , he was especially  renowned for his interpretations of  Verdi and Rossini Mozart,  but also conduted operas by Wagner, Alban Berg, Mussorgsky , Debussy and Richard Strauss . 

    He was a  staunch champion of such leading Italian  contemporary  composers as Luigi Nono and others , as well as the music of  other avant-garde European composers as  Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen . 

    Abbado  made numerous recordings , mostly for Deutsche Grammaphon , but also for  Sony Classical and Decca of  a wide variety of  works ,and many have become classics , such as his  La Scala recordings of operas by Verdi ,including  Don Carlos , Aida , Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth and Un Ballo in Maschera .  Classic Rossini opera recordings include  Il Barbiere Di Siviglia , La Cenerentola (Cinderella ), and  Il Viaaggio  Reims .

    There are also recordings of Bizet's Carmen, Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov and Khovanshchina, Wagner's Lohengrin ,  Debussy's Pelleas& Melisande ,  and Berg's  Wozzeck . 

    Abbado recorded all nine Beethoven symphonies twice, with the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, and the complete symphonies of  Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms , Mahler, and Tchaikovsky .  There are also recordings of numerous works by Prokofiev, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky,  Berlioz ,  Bruckner Debussy etc .    Numerous live performances of  operas and concerts by the maestro are available on DVD .

     Few conductors have been so universally loved and admired as Claudio Abbado , by both audiences musicians and  singers .   And few have been less egotistical  and  imperious .  He will be universally missed , but leaves a great and  priceless legacy of  great achievements .


Posted: Jan 20 2014, 10:18 PM by the horn | with no comments
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So You're Going To The Opera For The First Time . . . .

  Recently, a friend of mine and his wife went to see their first opera , at a not too shabby a venue - the Metropolitan opera .  He's a psychologist based in Manhattan  and  a Jazz  buff .  But lately, I've been  able to increase his interest in classical music and opera , and  when he asked me if he and his wife  should try a performance at the Met, I  said of course , as you might expect from me . 

    The opera he chose, with my recommendation , was the new Met production of Tchaikovsky's  poignant "Eugene Onegin", based on a  lengthy verse poem by the great early 19th century writer Alexander Pushkin .  It's the story of a bored and cynical  Russiian playboy who by chance  meets a naive and  vulnerable young woman who falls  hopelessly in love with him ,only to be rejected  because he has no interest in  settling down as a married man . Several years later , he meets her again at a ball in St. Petersburg, where she is now the wife of a  much older Russian general .  He now realizes that he loves her, but is crushed by her rejection of him now that she is a married woman, even though she still feels love for him . 

    It's a richly romantic opera with  plenty of Tchaikovsky's souldful and haunting  melodies .  Not a bad choice .  My friend asked me about what to wear , and I explained that  there is no dress code, and  the only time that some people dress formally there is on the opening night of the season, which is a gala  occaision . 

    That's right . If you've never been to an opera performance ,  those scenes in old movies  at  the opera with everybody dressed in  Tuxedos and gowns are nothing like  the real experience of  going to the opera today .  People don't go there to show off their fancy clothes ; they're there to see and hear an opera .  A lot of these people are opera fans -  just the same way some people are baseball  fans , or of football or basketball .  Some will  always be opera newbies or people who just attend  once in a while .  There may be some wealthy people in the audience , usually in the expensive boxes , but they too may be big opera fans .  There's absolutely nothing stuffy about the opera experience , whatever it may be like . 

     Opera fans  discuss the performances  just as  hearedly as sports fans . But unlike sports,  there are no clearcut wnners or losers .  They disagree very often .  But  ultimately, EVERYBODY there is a winner , whether the cast or the audience .   

     I also explained that although the opera was sung in Russian by a mostly Russian cast  of singers , and the conductor was also  Russian,  the Met has  a system  whereby you can  see an English translation of  whatever opera is being performed  on the back of the seat in front of you , and this certainly helped  to enhance their enjoyment of the opera .

     Many other opera houses  use supertitiles, whereby a translation  is  projected onto the stage .  But thew Met stage is so enormous that it's impossible  to project a translation  so that everyone can see it, hence the ingenious  so-called  "Met Titles ".  

     So if you've never had the pleasure of  attending  an opera performance at any of the who knows how many which exist all over the globe, don't hesitate yourself !    Would my friend and his wife like to go to more Met performances ? The answer was a definite yes !


Posted: Jan 08 2014, 11:01 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Classical Music In 2013 - The Good, The Bad And The Ridiculous

   The year 2013 in classical  music was a  bewildering and  dizzying  mix of artistic  excellence and   fiscal  and administrative woes for performing arts institutions all over the globe .  Sometimes it seemed as though the  entire world of classical music was bout to implode , yet there have been glimmers of hope amid all  the  bad news .

   First , the bad news .  Orchestras and opera companies  all over Europe , America and elsewhere  are struggling to stay alive and some have gone under .  The plucky New York City opera , a fixture in that  great city  for nearly 70 years , declared bankruptcy  and  has ceased  giving performances  , and has been unable to return  to  Lincoln Center , where it had  stood  next to the mighty and far more glamorous  Metropolitan  oper since the 1960s . Billionaire  business tycoon  David Koch , who had  contributed  greatly to  the company in funding  the recent extensive  renovation of  the former New York State theater, now named after him, is no longer willing to provide the help  to save the company , and there are other complex causes for this  disaster . 

    The Minnesota orchestra of Minneapolis  has been  locked out  for over  year due a power struggle between the musicians  and its management , and  Osmo Vanska , its Finnish-born music director has resigned  due to the impasse after a decade of  critical and audience acclaim  as its head , and  a series of  recordings with Sweden's  BIS label  has been cancelled .  In Italy , the Rome opera is on the verge of  going under , as well  as  the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino  opera company in Florence .  The whole  opera infrstructure in Italy , ironically the birthplace of opera 400 years ago , seems about to implode , apparently due to  poor management  .

    Elsewhere in Europe ,  two of Germany's most prestigious radio orchestras , those of Stuttgart and the nearby one in thew resort town of Baden-Baden are being merged  for financial reasons , and  some of the musicians may  have to be downsized .  At least two of  the orchestras of Greece have folded ,  and in Asia , the Maylasian Philharmonic of Kuala Lumpur is  plagued with management problems . 

    The Brrooklyn Philharmonic  in New York, acclaimed for its adventurous programming  , has  gone bankrupt , as well as the Napa Valley Phiharmonic in California , the San Antonio, Texas, opera , and Opera Boston . The Milwaukee symphony has recently announced   financial  troubles which could threaten its existence .  And there are quite a few others everywhere that  are struggling .

     But on the plus side , most of the world's who knows how many  opera  companies  are still alive and kicking , and  they are performing  a very wide variety of repertoire  ranging from centuries ago to  new or recent works .  James Levine , the internationally acclaimed  music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the orchestra pit  there  after  nearly two years of severe back  trouble and other ailments , and though confined to a  motorized wheelchair , he  health has improved considerably .  He recently conducted  the first  new production of  Verdi's  final  opera  "Falstaff " in nearly 50 years  at the Met  to considerable  acclaim  nd his renewed presence  on  the Met's roster of conductors  could not be more welcome .

    The young  Canadian conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin  appears to be doing great work reviving the fortunes of the  troubled Philadelphia orchestra , one of the world's greatest , after several years without a music director , and  he has begun to record with the orchestra for the presitigious  Deutsche Grammophon label .  After a long search due to  James Levine's departure from the Boston symphony due to his  severe health problems , the orchestra has found  a promising  choice to succeed him , the gifted   young Latvian conductor  Andris Nelsons .

     In the ridiculous category ,  the new production of  Wagner's Ring cycle at  the  legendary festival  theater in Bayreuth  ,Germany in honor of the  bicentennial  of his birth turned out to  be  a total  travesty of  the  monumental  work .   The composer intended the  tetralogy of  operas to be set in a mythical   pagan  Germany with the Germanic gods, goddesses,  superheroes, giants, dwarves,  water nixies ,  etc, yet the director and designer set the production in  contemporary  America  out west , and also in  the oil rich  city of Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian sea .   The Ring is all about  greed and lust for power , and  the fierce struggle between the gods , dwarves, and giants etc ,  but the production  turned the work into  something Wagner could never even have conceived of  let alone have approved of .  Such  preposterous productions of operas  have been the norm in European opera companies since the 1970s, and there seems to be no end in sight .

     But whatever happens in the near future , don't believe the doomsayers who are convinced that  classical  music is on life support . You can't keep a great art form down !


Posted: Dec 30 2013, 08:36 PM by the horn | with no comments
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It's Beethoven's Birthday - But Do You Really Know The Music And The Man ?

   December 16 th is Beethoven's birthday , and he was born in  1770 in the provincial German town of Bonn in the Rhineland , which served as the capitol of west Germany before the reunification  of east and west , leaving  his hometown  at the age of 21 to move to  Vienna , the greatest musical center of the day in order to seek  the chance ot achieve greatness , where he died in 1827 .

   We all know  that Beethoven was one of the greatest composers of all time , and that he suffered from  deafness which progressed slowly beginning in his early 30s even though the exact cause remains a matter of medical speculation  . Everyone knows the famous melody of the "Ode To Joy " , the  "Da Da Da Daaaah " which opens the fifth symphony , and the catchy melody of his brief piano piece "Fur Elise ", which is just a  potboiler and  far from being one of his greates or most important works . And the , the correct title is actually "Fur Therese ", as the messy manuscript was apparently misread  by the publisher .

    But how many people REALLY know  Beethoven's music , its  emotional power, grandeur , originality , and intensity , as well as its passages of tender lyricism  , bloisterous humor , contempltiveness , and  other expressive qualities ?  Not nearly enough .  You really have to take the time to get to know the music by carefull listening  , and it helps to know something about the man, his extraordinary life , the context of the times he lived in  etc .  Fortunately, there is  wealth of  writing about this , in biographies, books, articles , etc , all esily accessible over the internet . 

    Beethoven wrote quite a few  works  which are simple, straightforward , and tuneful , mainly for money .  But his nine symphonies, five piano concertos , violin conerto ,  32 piano sonatas , his sole opera Fidelio , 16 string quartets , his  Miss Sollemnis , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass , and many other works  are NOT easy listening if you're new to  classical music .  In fact , you can listen to them  for many,many years without ever  leaning everything about them and   you will always gain new insights into them from repeated hearings .

    And what kind of man was Ludwig Van Beethoven , son of a  court singer in  Bonn of  Flemish origin ?  He showed  early  musical talent as a boy in his hometown , studied with a repsected music techer who taught him  the basics of compositon and  began to compose  his juvenile works, which are very little known today .  His father thought he might be able to exploit the boy as a child prodigy like Mozart , and forced him to practice at the keyboard  for many hours  a day ,  even treating him roughly . 

    The young Ludwig never became another Mozart ,but he developed into a formidable piano virtuoso  and in his early 20s, realized that he should move from provincial Bonn in Germany to  sophisticated  Vienna ,  capitol of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire  as well as being the musical  capitol of Europe . That was where the opportunity  was .  He hoped to study with Mozart , but met him only once  shortly before  his trgically early death . He did manage to study with  another great composer and friend of Mozart , Joseph Haydn .  But he claimed to have learned little  from the great master and was  beginning to  show his own  originality as a composer .  He also  acheived great  acclaim as a piano virtuoso ,  and the wealthy ,influential  music-loving nobility of Vienna  recognized his  brilliance  and began to support him  financially and with comissions for a variety of works .

      But Beethoven was a stubborn ,headstring , a  not particularly  deferential,tactful   and suave personality who was never willing to suck up to the rich and powerful Viennese aristocracy and  powerful politicians ,  potentates and prelates .  He ws gruff ,  irascible and did not suffer fools  gladly .  H e never married , but  always hoped to find a woman who migh marry him .  But he was rather uncouth at times ,  moved frequently round Vienna serching for an apartment who pleased him and was  sloppy, unkempt  nd often shabbily dressed .  The Viennese tolertaed his  foibles, though, because of his  genius .  His dwellings were a mess .  You might call him the Oscar Madison of music, although he had no Viennese Felix Unger neat freak  as a  roommate - fortunately !

     The exact  cause remains unclear , but Beethoven began to suffer  distressing difficulties with his hearing from his early 30s ,  and  gradually became  almost completely deaf . Doctors were unable to help him much , but a   crude  sound magnifying device , an ear horn, helped him somewhat .  He was a  stubborn , crotchety , irascible  fellow , and while he had many friends  among the leading musicians of the day ,  his frequent ill temper  caused rifts between  them frequently .  He  had frequent  quarrels with his two brothers , the only surving  immediate  family members  he had ;  his parents had had several other children who died in infancy , and  his nephew , son of one of them  , came to live with him after his parent's a crimonious  divorce .  Beethoven  disapproved of the boy's mother , and thought her to be  loose woman . Uncle and nephew had  a difficult relationship to say the least .

     Deafness  forced Beethoven to  abandon his brilliant career as a pianist , but fortunately it dd not stop him from  producing  some of the greatest music ever written ; nine  great symphonies , 32  piano sonatas , ten for violin and piano , five for cello and pianoi, five piano concertos , one for violin ,  sixteen string quartets ,  one opera called Fidelio ,  numerous miscellaneous piano works ,  two masses , other chamber works  such as  trios for violin, cello and piano , and much, much more . 

     It was anything but an easy , uneventful life .  In addition to his deafness , difficult personality , lack of luck with women ,  family woes , difficulty in finding musicians and orchestras which could do justice to his  denanding works ,  etc,  he was often plagued by  various ailments such as stomach trouble and other maladies .  When he departed the world in 1827 , his funeral was a public event  , and the great  Austrian poet Franz Grillparzer delivered a funeral oration . 

     And as they say , the rest is history . Beethoven's works became an integral part of the standard repertoire for  orchestras , pianists, conductors, violinists ,  and other musicians  .  But  how many of his works do YOU know,a ssuming you are not a lover of classical music , a professional  musician or musicologist ?   There's so much more to  Beethoven than a few  famous tunes .   The melodies , more properly called themes, in Beethoven are only the basic building blocks of his  works . What mkes them great is what  he does with those  basic, often simple melodies , constntly trnsforming them with such ingenuity  , and  forming them into works of great complexity and depth .

    Have you experienced that grandeur , intensity and emotional power of  Beethoven's music, as well as  its  tender lyricism ,  boisterous humor and   moments of  deep contemplation , its many-sidedness which I just mentioned  ?  If not  , please start listening carefully to his music , and go far beyond those popular tunes which everyone knows .  You'll never regret it !




Posted: Dec 16 2013, 10:09 PM by the horn | with no comments
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An Unusually Large Dose Of Mozart

   Wolfgang Amadeus Mozrt is an iconic figure in western culture ; we hear his music constantly , or fragments of it, constantly in popular culture, on television etc , and  countless people have seen the entertaining if  not very historically  accurate film Amadeus .  But how well do we really know his music , which consists of approximtely 600 works of all kinds written during his tragically brief  life of 35 years ?

   Only a  small part of which which is performed everywhere by orchestras ,opera companies and other groups .  LIke so many famous composers , Mozart is  known to the general  public by only a small number of his  numerous works . These include 41 (numbered) symphonies , 22 operas, several  which are in fragmentary form, 27 piano concertos ,  numerous string quartets  and chamber works for a variety of instruments , religious works  for chorus and orchestra ,  concertos for flute, oboe, violin , clarinet, bassoon, French horn ,  many pio sonatas and  miscellaneous works for that instrument , oratorios and other works for chorus and orchestra ,etc .

    So lately , I've been taking a   advantage of  chance to  hear  many works of his I had not heard  before or knew only slightly  on CD because  one of the public libraries  I frequent has  a  collection of  ALL of Mozarts works in many volumes  on the  Philips  label  performed by a wide variety of  distinguished  conductors ,  top orchestras , violinists ,pianists , opera singers ,  choruses and  chamber ensembles .  All of these recordings have been availble singly , and you may still be able to find some of them on the internet  at and .

    Unfortunately ,  the  Philips label , which was based in the Netherlands , is  no longer  producing  classical  recordings , although much of its  large and excellent  back catalogue of recordings is being reissued on the Decca  Label,  with which it was affiliated , so  it's probably very difficult to find this huge set . 

    For example,  Mozart's  best known operas  include such familiar  masterpieces as Don Giovanni , The Marriage of Figaro  and  the Magic Flute .  These are the products  of Mozart's  last years .  But he began writing operas  as a  boy ,  including such  obscure  ones as  Bastien & Bastienne,  Mitridate , King of Pontus, Il Re Pastore (The shepard king) , La Finta Giardinera (  the pretended  woman gardener ),  Lucio Silla , and others .  None of these  has held the stage because they are hardly immortal  masterpieces of the opera repertoire , although the Salzburg festival  , which is in his native city presented  a cycle of  all  22 Mozart operas back in 2006 , the 250th  anniversary of his birth .

    But it's amazing that  such a young boy could write them at all .  They're pleasant to hear , if  not nearly  as  memorable  as his mature works for the operatic stage .  No, not every work Mozart wrote is a sublime masterpiece .  It took  quite a few years  for this  great genius  to reach maturity , and who knows how many  masterpieces he might have produced if he had  lived beyond the short lifespan fate assigned to him . 

    Like so many composers  of  the day , Mozart wrote works on commission to make money .  He didn't just wait there until  "inspiration"  struck him .   He worked very hard , and  many of his works are mere potboilers , which is nothing to be ashamed of .  For a long time, Mozart  worked as official court composer  to the archbishop of his native Salzburg , and  did not like living there  as pretty much a hack  for the archbishop, whom he disliked .  For the last ten years of his tragically short life,  he was able to move to Vienna , the center of  music in Europe and  worked as a free lance composer and pianist .  It was not as secure a living  as in provincial  Salzburg ,  but he relished the freedom and was able to write  his greatest  symphonies ,operas , concertos  and  chamber works  there , the ones by which he is best known .

    But I'm still  glad  to have gotten the chance to  hear  the  forgotten corners  of the output of  one of the  greatest  geniuses in the history of music .   There's a saying  that goes "No one can be a genius 24 hours a day ".  But  Mozart's best hours  have  provided us with so many great works .

Posted: Dec 02 2013, 10:09 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Why Aren't There More Women Composers ?

   When we think about composers , we usually think of men .  Why are there no female  Beethovens , Mozarts ,  and Bachs ? 
Why do we almost always hear music by men alone  at concerts ?  The reasons cannot  be  explained by sexism alone , although sexism certainly has played a role in this . 

    There have been women composers from the very beginning of what we call  western classical music , centuries  ago .  And far more than  most people realize .  After googling a list of them , I found a list of hundrends of them going back nearly a  thousand years  ago to the present day .  Women composers from every corner of Europe ,  plus Americans ,Candians and Asians etc .  None of them household names , but some with  some reputation and  familiar to died in the wool classical music buffs .

    Pauline Viardot , Dame Ethyl Smyth , Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade , Lili  Boulanger ,  Germaine Tailleferre , Louise Farrenc,  Grazyna Bacewicz ,  Ruth Crawford Seeger , Elisabeth Lutyens ,  ?   You've probably never heard of any of these women composers , but they all  had  some reputation in the past , and music by all  of them has been recorded . And numerous other women composers .

    Clara Schumann ( 1819 - 1896 ) was the wife of the great  Robert Schumann , and survived him by 40 years .  She was a renowned  pianist and a composer in her own wright .  Felix Mendelssohn's sister Fanny showed  considerable musical talent, and  also composed . But unfortunately , her  very proper family did not think it  appropriate for a young lady to compose, and some of her works were actually published  under her much more famous brother's name !

     Ethyl Smyth  of  England was probably the best known woman composer of  the late 19th and early 20th centuries , and  she was  actually awarded the title of Dame Ethyl Smyth .  Her opera "The Wreckers", her best known work ,  was successfully performed  all over  Europe and  England , and  a  recording of it was made  in London  some years ago .  She also has the distinction of be9ing the only women composer to have have  an opera performed  by the Metropolitan  opera , about a century ago .  It was in German and called  "Der Wald " (the forest ), but hs faded into oblivion since , like so mny other operas whether the composer was male or female .

     But in recent years ,  barriers to  to women  making successful careers have been  receding ,  and the glass  ceiling  is being shattered . There are now more women composers than ever before ,  and more young aspring women composers  studying in music schools everywhere .  It's no longer even news when an orchestra plays a work by a woman composer  any more  or an opera house  does an opera by one . 

    Kaaia  Saariaho of Finland (1952 -) is  one of  today's most widely performed composers , male or  female , and her music has been championed by such eminent conductors as her countryman  Esa-Pekka Salonen , Kent Nagano and others , and recorded .  Her opera "L'Amour  de Loin " (love from afar ) , set toa libretto in French, is the story of  medieval  love mong the troubadors , has had international acclain and has been available both on CD and DVD . 

     Jennifer Higdon  (1962 - )  has written numerous orchestrl works which have been performed by leading  orchestras all over America and elsewhere .  South Korea's  Unsuk Chin  hs written a highly etertaining opera based on  Alice in Wonderland , which can be found on DVD .

     Sofia Gubaidullina  , (1931 -)  is  Russia's best known woman composer , and her music has  been performed  all  over the world  and  has been championed by many eminent composers and instrumentalists .   Judith Weir (1954 -) is proably England's best known living woman composer . 

    This list barely scratches the surface . But one thing is certain ; it's a better time to be a woman composer than ever before .


Posted: Oct 29 2013, 09:40 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Today Is The 200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of Giuseppe Verdi

   The great Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi was born 200 years ago today , to humbe parents in a small town in northern Italy near  Parma .  He grew up to become the foremost  Italian opera composer of his day , a national hero in Italy , and many of his 26 operas are beloved fixtures of  the operatic repertoire all over the world .  When he died a venerated  old man   in Milan  in 1901 , his  funeral  was  a national  event  attended by thousands . 

   Everyone  knows  the  so-called  "Anvil chorus " and  "La Donna e Mobile ", even  people who have never been inside an opera house , but these are only a couple of the greatest hits from his operas .  Verdi's operas  are stirring, melodious ,  full of action and  vivid characters such as  the  bitter , hunchbacked  court jester Rigoletto ,  Violetta , the doomed consumptive  Parisian  courtesan  in La Traviata ,  Azucena , the  Spanish gypsy woman who is consumed with lust for vengance , Aida , the  Ethiopian  handmaid to the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh who is desperately in love with her betrothed, the commander of the Egyptian  army but cannot hve him ,  the  fat ,  drunken English rogue Falstaff ,  and  others ,

     So it's no wonder these operas have  been so popular  at opera houses everywhere since the mid  19th century .  Verdi gave   audiences  what  they wanted , and more .  And they still speak to us today .  He was a practical man of the theater  who used the conventions of Italian  opera  as  a   tool for realizing his genius , but ws never afraid to  be innovative .  In this , he was vastly different from his  great  German  contemporary  Richard Wagner, born in the same year ,  1813 in Leipzig ,  who was  a visionary  and revolutionary  whose  musical  goals were sometimes  extravagant,impractical   and quixotic  , and who  caused  so miuch  controversy both in his day and long after .  They are apples and oranges .  Both  towering figures in the history of opera .

   Many of the  greatest  opera singers  of the 19th and 20th centuries  have  achieved world  renown  singing the operas of Verdi , as well as recording them .  Maria Callas,  Enrico Caruso , Rosa Ponselle,  Renata Tebaldi , Renata Scotto ,  Luciano Pavarotti ,  Placido Domingo , Tito Gobbi ,  Mario Del Monaco ,  Sherrill Milnes ,  Nicolai Ghiaurov ,  Richard Tucker ,  Zinka Milanov ,  Leontyne Price ,  to name  only   handful .

    And they  have been  conducted  by such legendary  maestros  as  Arturo Toscanini , who knew him personally  and learned from him , Tullio Serafin , Victor De Sabata ,  Claudio Abbado , Carlo Maria Giulini,  Riccardo Muti  ,  as well as non-italian conductors  Herbert von Karajan , Sir Georg Solti ,  James Levine , and others  .  

    Verdi's most popular   operas  include  his final two masterpieces  Otello , based on the Shakespeare  play  Othello ,  Falstaff , based  on Shakespeare's Merry Wives Of Windsor , the earlier  Aida  ,  set in ancient Egypt ,  Il Trovatore  , set in medieval  Spain ,  Rigoletto ,  La  Traviata (the woman who strayed ) ,  Don Carlo ,  the story of the 16th century  Spanish  king Philip and his rebellious  son Carlos ,  Un Bllo in Maschera ( a masked ball ) , story of  the assssination of  the  Swedish king  Gustaf ,  and Macbeth , also based on  the Shakespeare play .

     The early  operas  of  Verdi  are not  performed nearly as often , but  they are sometimes  revived , and include  Nabucco ,  story of the Babylonian  captivity of the Jews under king Nebachudnezzar  (Nabucco is the Italian form of the name ) , Attila  ,   somewhat  fictionalized  story of  the  king of the Huns  ,  etc .  The Italians pronounce Attila  with the accent on the first syllable .

     Among Verdi's  non-operatic  works  are the beloved  Requiem  , a setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead  , which he wrote  despite the fact that he was an agnostic  . Many other composers , including Mozart and Berlioz  , have written settings of the requiem , but Verdi's is perhaps the most popular .  It has been  described  as a somewhat  operatic  version of  sacred music , but  no one seems to object to this !   The Requiem was written  around  1870 to honor  the death  of the  once famous  Italian  novelist  Alessndro Manzoni , whom Verdi and so many other Italians revered . 

    If you are new to  Verdi's operas  , there are an enormous number of complete  recordings of them  to choose from . You might start with  Rigoletto,La Traviata , Il Trovatore , and Aida  ,  and  the recordings by such great  singers as Pavarotti , Callas, Renata Scotto , Tito Gobbi , Leontyne Price ,  Robert Merrill  etc  on such  presitigious record labels  as Decca  ,EMI, R.C.A.,  and Deutsche Grammophon , with such great conductors as Carlo Maria Giulini, Clauido Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Sir Georg Solti nd Herbert von  Karajan .

    There are also numerous  live  performances on DVD from the Metropolitan opera, La Scala ,Milan ,  the Royal opera in London , etc .  You'll soon learn why  Verdi's operas are so popular  !



Posted: Oct 09 2013, 04:30 PM by the horn | with no comments
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Despite Numerous Setbacks , A New Classical Season Has Begun

  It's early October , and  the world's  symphony orchestras ,opera companies etc  are  back in business .  The world's who knows how many  orchestras and opera companies have been revving up .  The classical music world is beset with  troubles ;  many performing  arts organizations are  struggling with  finances  and/ or labor disputes , and  the risk of  folding  because  of tough economic times  is  widespread . Some  have indeed gone under , but  the vast majority are alive and kicking .

    There are  threatened   orchestras and opera companies  as well as defunct ones in such  American  cities as Minneapolis ,  Boston , New York , Nashville, Louisville ,  San Antonio ,  St. Paul , to name only some .  Many orchestral musicians have been forced to accept pay cuts .  Nothing is certain except uncertainty .

    But there is also good news .  James Levine , the beloved  longtime music director of the Metropolitan opera , has returned to the  pit for the first time in two years  after  a long and  painful struggle with  severe back trouble and injuries , despite being confined to a wheelchair .  The prestigious  Philadelphia orchestra  seems to be doing well  under its  gifted and  charismatic music director Yannick Nezet-Seguin of Canada  after  a long  search for a new music director  , and has just issued  a  recording  of Stravinsky's  Rite of Spring  under him on the  prestigious Deutsche Grammophon label .

    The Boston symphony orchestra is anticipating  the  arrival of the gifted young Latvian  conductor  Andris Nelsons  as its new music director , replacing  Levine , who was forced to resign because  of  his health problems . 

    But financial  problems  are now threatening  Europe's  orchestras and opera companies  after decades of generous  government subsidies .  In Germany , even such  prestigious orchestras as  the Stuttgart radio orchestra  and the  South West German  radio orchestra in the resort town of Baden Baden  could go under .  

     There will  still be  enormous diversity of repertoire  performed  all over the world .  Never in the centuries old tradition of western classical music has such  wide variety of works by so many different composers  ,living and dead  , been  performed .  The beloved  staples of the operatic, orchestral and chamber music repertoire  re still very much with us - music by  Mozart ,Beethoven, Bach ,  Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky , Dvorak ,  Wagner, Verdi,Puccini ,  etc  , but there is no lack of new  music by  a wide variety of  living composers  , and  many interesting  long neglected works from the past   are being revived .

     Dead White European  Males  have no monopoily on what is being  heard .  Among the very much alive  are John Adams , Philip Glass , Christopher Rouse , Jennifer Higdon ,  Nico Muhly , of America ,  Osvaldo Golijov of  Argentina , now living in America ,  Kaaia  Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg of Finland  ,  Wolfgang Rihm of Germany ,  Arvo Part of Estonia ,  Krzystof Penderecki of Poland ,   Peter Maxwell Davies  and  Harrison Birtwistle of England ,  and Unsuk Chin of South Korea .    Saariaho , Higdon ,  and  Chin are women .  It's no longer even news when a work by a woman composers is performed any more . 

      A number of  eminent conductors have passed away recently , including  Wolfgang Sawallisch , Sir Colin Davis , Paavo Berglund ,Kurt Sanderling ,  and Bruno Bartoletti  , but  there are  brilliant  younger conductors  beginning to achieve international  prominence, such as Gustavo Dudamel ,  Andris Nelsons ,  Robin Ticciati  and others ,  and  such great maestros as  Claudio Abbado , Riccrdo Muti,  James Levine , Bernrd Haitink ,  Mriss Jansons ,  Daniel Barenboim ,  Leonard Slatkin , Simon Rattle ,  Lorin Maazel ,  Valery Gergiev ,  and others are still going strong . 

    There is still a galaxy  of great  opera singers ,  pianists , violinists and cellists etc ,  and there are more world class orchestras  than ever before .  Don't believe the hype - classical music is far from being  dead or dying . 



Posted: Oct 03 2013, 08:00 PM by the horn | with no comments
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The Indescribable Soprano ? Florence Foster Jenkins (1868 - 1944 )

   Recently, I borrowed a CD from my local library of  recordings by the once famous , or notorious  American soprano ? Forence Foster Jenkins , who my have been the worst  snger in the history of the vocal art .  This eccentric  lady , who managed to  make a  successful career despite her apprent lack of  any  vocal  talent or musicianship ,  is one of the most curious stories in  the history of  classical music . 

    She was born  the daughter of  a wealthy banker  in Wilkes Barre Pennsylvnia in 1868  and was  a  total amateur  . She studied voice in Europe  despite a lack of ny talent  , and when her father died  in 1909 she inherited enough to  begin making  a career of sorts on her own .

    Jenkins' singing is so awful it's fun !   She could not sing on pitch to sve her life , her rhythmic  accurcy was non-existent  and she sounded  like a  wounded  duck !    Her pronunciation of  foreign languages was comically bad .  But audiences loved her  demented  caterwauling !   In a sense,  she may have been  the first performance artist  , active long before the term was invented .

    She would  perform in  elaborate and ridiculous-looking  costumes of her own design , including one  with angel's wings , changing  at least twice  during recitals .  She was able to book  even prestigious Carnegie hall for herself  , nd her  recitals  were egerly  awaited and actually sold out !   Her accompanist  was the  grotesquely-named Cosmo Mc Moon ,  who was able to adjust to her  rhythmic  and musical ineptitude  and even wrote some  songs for her .  She tried to tackle some very difficult operatic arias with  hilariously disastrous  results , such as the  fiendishly difficult  revenge aria of  the Queen of the Night in Mozart's  famous opera The Magic Flute . 

    On the  recording, you can hear how she is totally unable to reach  the  dizzying high notes of this aria and is off  by  a mile !   The ironic thing is that she always considered herself to be a serious  singer  !   The  CD is  on the R.C..A. label . If  you're unable to  find it. check youtube, which has  wealth of  performances by famous classical musicians  .  It's a  blast !

Posted: Sep 16 2013, 10:17 PM by the horn | with no comments
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